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Voter Engagement


Santa Cruz County Profile


    Santa Cruz County's elections office is located     in the county government building at 701 Main     Street in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz County is home to nearly 200,000 eligible California voters and 140,000 registered voters.

Relative to other California counties, Santa Cruz is a small county, with about half the number of eligible voters than the average California county.


  • Number of precincts: 253

  • Number of eligible voters: 183,698 (as of April 2014)

  • Number of registered voters: 140,180 (as of April 2014 - at time of Nov. 2012 election: 158,524)

  • Votes cast Nov. 2012: 121,323

  • Number cast by VBM Ballot: 64,186 (1)

  • Percentage cast by VBM ballot: 53%

Santa Cruz has historically used a manual system for processing and verifying VBM ballots, but acquired and implemented a new, automated system for sorting and signature verification for the 2014 election cycle. The system, provided by Runbeck Election Services, supports Santa Cruz’s current VBM envelope design, which features a signature secrecy tab that hides the voter’s signature until the tab is pulled.

Ballot Return Method


    A ballot drop box is located outside the county     government building and can easily be accessed     by foot or car.

In Santa Cruz, nearly half the November 2012 vote-by-mail voters took a personal approach to ballot return, dropping their ballots in person at a polling place, the Registrar's office, or a designated drop site rather than putting them in the mail.

A slight majority of Santa Cruz County VBM voters returned their ballots by mail (52%) in November 2012, while 20% dropped them off at the polls on Election Day, and 17% delivered them to an official drop site. About one in ten VBM voters dropped their ballots in person at the county office.









Uncounted VBM Ballots

Of all the VBM ballots that were received in the November 2012 election, 385 (0.6%) were not counted.

An analysis of Santa Cruz County’s unsuccessful VBM ballots received in November 2012, June 2012, November 2010 and November 2008 show that, on average, unsuccessful VBM ballots comprise 0.7 percent of all VBM ballots cast in Santa Cruz County.

The top three reasons why Santa Cruz County VBM ballots do not get counted are: they are received too late to count (70%); the signature on the envelope does not compare to the signature on file (15%); and there is no signature on the VBM envelope (14%). These three reasons account for 99 percent of the unsuccessful VBM ballots in Santa Cruz County.

uncounted ballots chartBeing a small county means Santa Cruz is able to have a more personal relationship with its voters, providing a level of one-on-one service that larger counties simply cannot provide due to the sheer numbers of voters they serve. The Registrar of Voters office goes to great lengths to accommodate VBM voters and make sure their votes are cast properly, even going so far as to re-deliver mistakenly unsigned ballot envelopes to a voter's home or workplace if need be. In CVF’s three-county study, Santa Cruz was the only one that contacted voters prior to the election if their VBM envelope signature did not match the one on file. The county’s outreach efforts contribute to its relatively low rate of uncounted VBM ballots due to missing and mismatched signatures compared to the other two counties studied.

Late ballots comprised a far higher percentage of the uncounted ballots in Santa Cruz County compared to the other two counties in CVF’s study. This may be due to the fact that Santa Cruz County mail is sent to Santa Clara County for processing before returning back to Santa Cruz.

In the June, 2014 Primary election, the county received an astonishingly high number of late ballots delivered by the U.S. Post Office at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 4, the day after the election. Three mail trays containing 573 ballots were delivered one day after the election, too late to count. The number of late ballots delivered that day alone was more than double the 232 late ballots Santa Cruz received following the November 2012 election, when turnout was much higher.

mail tray

    Trays of voted ballots delivered from the post office arrive one day too late     to count in June 2014.

The late ballots arrived despite the fact that county election staff traveled to San Jose the night of the election to retrieve any ballots before polls closed at 8 p.m. (the county reported retrieving approximately 123 ballots at that time). The late ballots comprised a significant percentage of all ballots cast and had they been counted the votes would likely have impacted the outcome of some local contests.

One challenge Santa Cruz struggles with perhaps more than other counties is problems stemming from the mobility of student voters, in this case students attending UC Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College, and other schools in the county. These students move more often than other voting populations, causing large numbers of the ballots to be returned to the Registrar's office as undeliverable. Such ballots are then marked in the system as undeliverable, the voter is inactivated, and additional correspondence is required to determine the voter's correct address and eligibility. This puts additional pressure on the agency and its relatively small number of staff members at the height of the election.

Student VBM voters also make up the overwhelming majority of VBM ballots that are dropped at polls for the wrong county, creating extra work for the Registrar's office, which does its best to get these ballots to the correct county election office. Although such ballots cannot be counted under current law, delivering them to the proper county makes it more likely they will be recorded as uncounted.

About the County Clerk

Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin

Gail Pellerin has served Santa Cruz County voters for the last twenty years, first as Elections Manager for the County and then as County Clerk, a position she was appointed to in July 2004.

Pellerin was subsequently elected to the position in 2006 and has served continuously as County Clerk since that time. Pellerin previously served as president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials, and on the Secretary of State’s Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee.






1. The number of VBM ballots reported as returned (64,186) is slightly lower than the official number of VBM counted (64,372) in the Secretary of State’s certified results because the VBM report of returns does not include the county's confidential voters nor does it include the provisional votes cast by VBM voters. These votes are included in the vote-by-mail vote tally in the county's certified statement of the vote.


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This page was first published on July 13, 2014 | Last updated on August 18, 2014
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